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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Could the Shalit kidnapping have been prevented?

Haaretz carries details of a Maariv report that claims that an internal dispute in the IDF delayed the arrest of two 'Palestinians' whose questioning could have prevented the kidnapping of IDF corporal Gilad Shalit by Hamas terrorists in June 2006.
The daily Maariv reported on Friday that on that night, June 23, the IDF arrested brothers Mustafa and Osama Muammar near the Gazan town of Rafah. The article claimed that Mustafa broke under interrogation on the night of June 24, a few hours before the kidnapping, and gave the Shin Bet detailed information about the plan. The Shin Bet relayed the information, but it got "stuck" somewhere along the way and never reached the soldiers in field.

But Haaretz queried five security officials, some very senior, who are well-versed in the affair, and their version of events is different. They said the information Mustafa Muammar gave on Saturday night was fairly general. Only on Sunday - after the abduction had already occurred, and after the Shin Bet had applied "exceptional interrogation methods" - did he break down and reveal the critical details, even though the interrogators did not tell him that the kidnapping had already occurred.

The Shin Bet declined to comment.

The officers' version of events raises an obvious question: What if the Muammars had been arrested sooner? At that point, a mere nine months after the Israel pullout from Gaza, the IDF was being very cautious about arrests deep inside the Strip. Israeli intelligence had vague information about the Muammars' connection with a planned attack and had decided to arrest them in the hope of learning more, but they lived 1.5 kilometers from the Israeli border, a distance at which the army was reluctant to operate at that time.

On the morning of June 22, officers from the Southern Command and the Gaza Division proposed arresting the two that night. Moshe Kaplinsky, then deputy chief of staff, concurred. But the heads of Military Intelligence and the Operations Directorate dissented, saying more preparations were needed.

Then-chief of staff Dan Halutz nevertheless okayed the operation for that night, as did then-defense minister Amir Peretz. Later, however, Halutz reversed himself and postponed the arrest by 24 hours, as MI and the Operations Directorate had urged. Thus the Muammars were arrested only on the night of June 23, and their crucial information was not obtained in time.
Is that 20-20 hindsight? Maybe. But notice that we have the same waffling from Halutz here that we saw from him a month later in Lebanon.


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